Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Event: Last Year's Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

[FTC Standard Disclosure] We received no compensation for this post.

It has been a weird year since our team hasn't competed in any BBQ contests this year and we have only cooked at one food festival. In case you are missing these events as much as we are, here is a look back at the 2019 Praise The Lard event.

2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

Praise The Lard is one of the crown jewels in the BBQ competition realm for several reasons. 

  • Praise The Lard is two BBQ contests in one, featuring both KCBS and MBN sanctioned events. 
  • Praise the Lard also includes a steak contest sanctioned by the Steak Cookoff Association.
  • Praise the Lard is excellently organized and well-executed by the legendary Mills family of 17th Street Barbecue.
This BBQ event has been on my BBQ event bucket-list for years. I finally got to compete in it last year with my friends at Flavor Anonymous. We have competed together at Memphis in May for years, but this was my first time with Flavor Anonymous in Murphysboro. Here are some of my pictures from the event.

2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest


The Cookers (aka Smokers)

I'm a gear junkie, I admit it. So the first thing I do after our team camp is set up is to walk around looking at all of the smokers. 


2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest


Offset smoker at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
This was one of the first pits that caught my eye. It is a reverse-flow offset smoker with a transversely mounted firebox. TBH, I'm not sure what mounting the firebox that way does, but my guess would be they could get more volume that way without increasing length. Or, it does allow access to the firebox from the front instead of the side.



Homemade Oklahoma Joe's pellet cooker
I wish that I had a better picture of this cool rig. Our event-neighbors had just rolled it off the trailer and hadn't cleaned it up yet. This is an Oklahoma Joe's offset pit that has been home-retrofitted to be a pellet cooker! They removed the firebox and added the pellet cooker device. I'm guessing that the canister connected to what looks like an aquarium pump is how he controls airflow.  



Ole Hickory CTO DW at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
When cooking whole hog, we always use an Ole Hickory Pits CTO-Double Wide or two. They are reliable, roomy, and make lip-smacking smoked meats. We even fit two hogs on one CTO-DW for this event.


Ole Hickory CTO 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
We also used an Ole Hickory CTO for our pork shoulder and ribs as well.




Outlaw BBQ Smokers offset smoker at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
This Outlaw BBQ Smokers offset pit is a killer looking offset smoker. I particularly like the oversized, insulated firebox. That must give long burn times and even cooking temps.

Offset smoker at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

A nice-looking gravity-fed box-cooker with a compact footprint. It is powered by a BBQ Guru Party Q.

Deep South Smokers gravity fed smoker at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Whoa, that's the biggest Deep South Smokers I have ever seen in person! I have their GC-36 model that is dwarfed by this behemoth. This is a gravity-fed, insulated box cooker. 

4t Champion Smokers offset pit at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
One of Knoxville's own 4T Champion Smokers offset pits. They are made here by our friend, George Ewart, and his partners, which include 4x World BBQ Champion, Mike Davis.

Water cooker at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
With the twin stacks and slanted door, this water cooker reminds me of my "Warthog" offset smoker.



Ole Hickory CTO on at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
I get trailer envy every time I attend an event. They are also using an Ole Hickory CTO.


Drum smokers at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
A bevy of drum smokers.

4t Champion Smoker offset pit at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Another 4T Champion Smoker, this one belongs to Smoke Me Silly, who we have competed against many times.

Backwoods smoker on a patio trailer at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
A nice patio-style trailer with a Backwoods smoker.

17th Street BBQ vending at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
The 17th Street BBQ crew was using an Ole Hickory Pits CTO-Double Wide to feed the crowds.

Drum smoker and gravity fed at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
It's not unusual to see a team using a combination of cookers like this Gateway drum smoker and a gravity-fed cooker.

Some kind of pellet/box cooker hyrbrid
This might be the most robust pellet cooker I've seen. It's a cross between an insulated pit like a Humphrey's and a pellet cooker with an extra helping of "wow, that's freaking cool." Check out the 4 chrome stacks on top. I just noticed the Shelby Cobra logo on the side. I wish I had time to talk to this team more about their cookers because they had some rocking stuff.

Old fashioned Chevrolet truck at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Not a smoker, but Backdraft BBQ had the coolest truck at their booth.

A triple threat of drum smokers and a Yoder pellet cooker.

You couldn't swing a brisket (inside joke for my Flavor Anonymous buddies) without hitting an Ole Hickory Pit at this contest.

Deep South Smokers gravity fed box cooker at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Another Deep South Smokers gravity-fed pit. This one is closer in size to my GC-36. I love these because they have a ton of space, hold temps well, and maintain a moist cooking environment.


A trio of drum smokers, and I think what is a Green Mountain Grills pellet cooker.

This black steel pit seems to combine a vertical and horizontal offset cooker with a drum smoker thrown in for good measure.

This team brought a triple set of drum smokers, what looks like a pellet cooker, and a pair of PK Grills.

Grilla Chimp portable pellet grill at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
We had a few Grilla Chimps at our site. These pellet smokers are small in size but deliver where it counts. I have one and that Chimp runs like a Champ. I like that it is so portable for a pellet grill, but you don't sacrifice good smoke.


A unique offset smoker at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
This is a unique offset pit since the firebox is mounted along the backside. That's because you have a rotisserie in the cooking chamber. Not a rotisserie like where you impale a chicken on a gas grill. Smokers like this are typically more like a meat Ferris wheel. There are 3 or 4 racks that rotate around, and the meat rests on those to ensure even heat.

Yep, anyone that has or had an offset smoker has done this before. Those doors get HOT!

Jason Cole has the best team name.



More drum smokers.

Excellent team logo, don't you think?


offset pit at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Brian Dwyer setting up their sweet looking offset pit.

Speaking of gear, one of the most critical things that makes a BBQ event a success is the water and electrical connections. When they work well, like they did here, you don't think much about them. But we have been to events where the electrical keeps shorting out or the nearest water connection requires 100 yards of a hose. Thankfully everything ran well at Praise the Lard.
17th Street BBQ is the organizer, but it takes many vendors and volunteers to make a BBQ contest work.

Praise The Lard SCA Steak Cookoff

Not content to be "just" a dual-event, the PTL organizers have added a steak cookoff. Steak cookoffs are a lot of fun because they don't require a lot of money, equipment, or time to get into competing. I think that is why the Steak Cookoff Association has had explosive growth since they started. 

Mike Mills opening the steak contest meeting at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Mike "The Legend" Mills opened the SCA meeting, welcoming the cooks. Don't those Certified Angus Beef® Brand ribeyes look good? 


Amy Mills conducting the SCA Steak Cookoff meeting at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Organizer, Amy Mills, covering the ins and outs of this specific contest.

Ken Phillips of the SCA Steak Cookoff Association at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
SCA Co-Founder Ken Phillips calling out the troublemakers covering the rules and regulations.

Chef Dylan Lipe drawing his number to determine his "draft position" for selecting his ribeye steaks. That volunteer is Marge Plummer, who has worked at over 400 BBQ contests!!! She's a sweetheart and is well known among BBQ circles.

Cooks selecting their Certified Angus Beef® Brand ribeye steaks for the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
The way the steak selection works is, there are at least 2 steaks for every cook. If you draw #1, you are the first one of all the cooks to pick on the first run-through, but you will be the last cook to choose your second steak. Likewise, the last cook to select their steak on the first run-through is the first to pick on the second pass.


Teams picking their Certified Angus Beef Ribeye Steaks at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest SCA Steak Cookoff
This is like trying to pick a fish out of a full aquarium at the pet store.

M6 used in a steak contest at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
For our team, Dylan uses M Grills, specifically the M6, for this event.

We also had some of the smaller M Grills on hand. This was my first experience with them, I thought they were rather impressive for such a little grill.

Chef Sean Vodden firing up some lump charcoal to get the M6 ready.


Preparing steaks at a SCA Steak Cookoff at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Dylan tying the ribeyes. Oops, this picture gives our secret ingredient away - Gatorade Zero! (kidding, don't do that)

Firing up an M Grills m6 for an SCA Steak Cookoff at 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Dylan fine-tuning the fire before starting his steaks.
SCA Steak Cookoff cooks trust their steaks to GrillGrates
This small grill put out some heat! 

Turn ins are similar to KCBS contests.


Mike Mills posing with some of the winners. I'm sorry that I don't recall the winners, but I didn't have my notebook with me, and my memory is terrible. We didn't win, but it was fun.


BBQ Cookoff


Finally, the BBQ side of things! We only competed on the Memphis BBQ Network (MBN) side, so we were turning in whole hog, shoulder, and ribs. Teams competing on the KCBS side also turned in chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket.

Friday is full of meat prep - trimming, injection, seasoning, and all other sorts of black magic that we do to pursue a call. Here a team is using a Chops Power Injector, which injects an array of 4 needles at once.


When teams start to prep their whole hogs, it always draws a crowd.

Friday is also the day where it's cool for friends and visitors to stop by.


GRAPHIC WARNING
The following pictures show us breaking down the whole hogs. If you are squeamish about butchery, scroll no further.

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
One of the first things we do is examine both hogs to determine which one will be butterflied for the turn in box and which one will be our presentation hog.
To keep the hogs refrigerated, you have to have some BIG coolers!

Sometimes if the hog is too long for the cooker, we remove the trotters using a reciprocating saw.

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
All hands on deck. From left to right, Dylan, Sean, myself, and Jim start trimming the inside sections. 

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
We also use a Dremel tool to trim around the ribs and spine.


Jim was too busy trimming the hams to pose for a selfie ;) 

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
This butterflied hog will be used for creating the turn-in box. We could have used just one hog for this event, but we wanted to practice for Memphis In May, where you really need two.


Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Jim and Sean helping to pull the hog open while Dylan splits the spine with the saw.

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Injecting the whole hogs' hams, shoulders, and loin.


Chef Sean Vodden Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Sean seasoning one of the hogs.

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Ready to go into the Ole Hickory CTO-Double Wide.


Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
The loins are quicker cooking than the hams and shoulders, so we protect them with sausage that will be removed when cooking is finished.

Dylan layering bacon over the stand.


Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
We cook the presentation hog in the upright or "running" position.

Preparing whole hog at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Dylan, Shane, Sean, and Jim do the final prep on our presentation hog. To help develop color, there are all sorts of tricks like beet juice.

Preparing whole hog on an Ole Hickory CTO Double Wide
The hardest part is getting the two hogs and racks into the cooker. It takes 4 people to lift it and guide the rack into the tracks. Everyone has to be working together and moving at the same time.

Preparing whole hog on an Ole Hickory pit at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
It's a tight fit, but we can get both hogs in there.

It isn't a BBQ contest unless it rains at some point.

I like the layout. The main contest area is under the shade of trees and has a corridor down the middle.


the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
BBQ is a family event, and this big guy was helping him mom, going from booth to booth.

Words of wisdom.


The local high school braved the rain to perform for the crowd.

Live music filled the evening air.

The evening is usually relaxed. Your meats should be prepped and resting so plenty of time to visit your fellow competitors.

at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

Preparing smoked pork shoulder at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Sean working on our shoulders.

My favorite time of the contests is the wee hours of the morning. The smoke hangs in the cool air, and everything is peacefully quiet.

Spare ribs at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Working on our spare ribs.



Working an offset smoker at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
After dawn, the contest site gets quite busy.

Cooking on drum smokers at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

Preparing BBQ at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

An offset carousel pit at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

Mopping meat at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest

Using a Yoder pellet cooker at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest



Preparing whole hog BBQ at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
Dylan, Shane, and Jim start to build our turn-in box.


Building the box is a team effort.

Unlike KCBS where samples are turned in on a "putting green" of garnish, no garnish is allowed in MBN turn-in boxes. This was our shoulder turn-in.
The whole hog turn-in must contain meat from the shoulders, loin, and hams.

Whole hog bbq at the 2019 Praise The Lard BBQ Contest
The final result for our presentation hog.

We didn't make finals this time, so there was no onsite judging, but this lil' piggy didn't go to waste.

Praise The Lard WILL be back next year and I'm looking forward to it.


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